Saturday, March 11, 2006

Of bugs and women...

I detest insects. Yah, yah, I know about their place in the ecosystem and all that stuff, but surely expecting them to keep to all but the 255 square meters of this planet I call my house cannot be called unreasonable, can it?

Oh, there are a few of the multi-legged little wretches I find tolerable…lady bugs, praying mantises, dragon flies and, of course, butterflies (although not their creepy little garden-devouring predecessors!)…yup, that pretty much makes up the list. Everything else that ambulates on more than four legs is, as far as I am concerned, a candidate for immediate extermination.

I come from a family of long-lived women. Most of us have lived well into our seventies, and more than a few have marched strongly through the eighties. That being the case, I expect to pack a few more decades under my belt before permanently packing it in…and I would just as soon not hasten my demise by poisoning my environment with toxic chemicals and the like. That is not to say that I won’ use insecticides…I most certainly will! But I have a strong preference for using other, non-toxic methods where possible. Hence my affinity for certain insects that devour their hexapod cousins, such as the lady bug (she loves aphids), praying mantises (anything that comes within range!), and dragonflies, the nymphs of which prey on the larvae of mosquitoes just as the adults eat the nasty little biting buggers themselves. I have a strong affinity for passive, non-toxic, low-maintenance insect control.

Early this week we had a bit of excitement in the house. Priscilla, one of my friends, had dropped by and as we sat at the table chatting, the maid started up a hysterical babble in Xhosa at the front door. She was flapping her broom at a corner and, being rather arachnophobic, I immediately presumed she was trying to kill a large spider…certainly a small one wouldn’t cause such a ruckus? Priscilla interceded, translating for me, and it came to light that the creature causing the commotion was a thoroughly frightened and absolutely cowed little gecko about 12 centimetres long. Swooping down between broom beats, I snatched his tightly curled little body out of the corner and carried him out to the patio, trailed by a wide-eyed Priscilla. I tried to put him on the wall of the house where he could run up and hide in the ceiling boards, but his little gripper pads were tightly adhered to my rescuing fingers and, while explaining to Priscilla that geckos ate bugs and were not poisonous, I carefully unstuck his little feet from my hand. I was actually able to persuade her to lightly run a finger over the little guy’s tail before I put him on the wall and he scurried to safety.

“Never kill a lizard,” I advised her. “There are no poisonous lizards in South Africa and they eat bugs.” I went on to explain that small geckos like the one I had just rescued from a horrible death-by-broom ate such things as mosquitoes and ants, while their larger cousins would make a happy meal of cockroaches and other large insects. “They’re cheaper than Doom,” I told her, “and don’t leave poison around to make your child sick!”

My mother-in-law, who is South African and who has lived her life in Durban, takes a dim view of my dedication to my lizards. Last year I rescued a small chameleon from death-by-curious dog, and at one time in America I kept horned toads (a rather disc-shaped American desert lizard) in the house as a control measure against the cockroaches and other creeping creatures that took possession of the house every night at dark. Like the maid, my mother-in-law attacks the beasts with a broom, although I must commend her for her restraint when I am about, even in her own house. She will even point out to me the occasional iguana clinging to the garden wall rather than beat it away with her broom, and when she is at my house…although I know it costs her greatly…she ignores the little visitors that often festoon the walls.

Occasionally I find a little black curl of gecko exhaust on the tiles, confirmation of their predatory efficiency. My mother-in-law finds this evidence of their existence objectionable, but I simply remind myself of how many dead bugs it must have taken to produce that bit of effluent and carefully remove with a bit of tissue to the loo…a small price to pay for the elimination of the little multi-legged trespassers!

Last night we spotted a new gecko prowling the upper reaches of the bedroom walls, a tiny little fellow no more than 4 centimetres long. He made his way behind the armoire and spent the day snoozing back there, re-emerging this evening to prowl the walls again. I’m happy to see him…I hope tomorrow night he returns again and this time brings his big brothers…


  1. Graeme Adamson12 March, 2006 12:50

    I love lizards and geckos. Also praying mantises, dragonflies, and the like.

    But then, I rather like spiders too. After all, they're a lot like bunny rabits, all cute and furry, except with more legs and eyes. :) And they eat flies and other bugs.

  2. I just LOVE geckos. My cat does not share my affection (or maybe she does??) and I often find the poor little things dead in the shower (considerate cat, innt she?)

    I will have as many of them in my home as will come!


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